Thursday, February 28, 2013

Rumours of Hugo's Demise Persist...

from the Guardian
The former Ambassador of Panama to the Organization of American States (OAS), Guillermo Cochez, said Venezuela’s President Hugo Chavez suffered brain death and who had died four days ago. According to statements given to international news channel NTN24, “the president suffered brain death since December 31 and have been disconnected from the machines that kept him alive for four days.”

On whether Venezuela is prepared the worst news, the journalist said: “Not at all, people who can read the political news can be but most people do not, hence the opposition goes on to say that everything is a braid, the people Chavez want to be told what happened to his Commander President, some say he has died, I have learned that on December 30 was the first death, brain death.”

It requested through his Twitter account the Venezuelan government to file a proof that Chavez is kept alive. “They’ve been cheating on Venezuela and the world,” he wrote.

“The infighting in Venezuela, the Cuban government pressure, are situations that have not allowed the news of his death be released,” said the reporter Cochez
Pamela Silva.

“Chavez was taken to Venezuela because the Cubans did not want to give the disconnect there and have kept him from returning to Venezuela in that state. Would not have been able to teach Evo Morales and Ollanta Humala or Cristina Fernández” he explained.

After the diplomatic Cochez questioned Venezuela’s decision to postpone the oath of President Hugo Chavez to be receiving medical treatment in Cuba, Panama’s government decided to dismiss him.

CNN Chile consulted the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Venezuela, who claimed that this version is not true and it contradicts the medical treatment that is currently performing the President of Venezuela. They refused further comment.
Guillermo Cochez, meanwhile, said Chavez died four days ago and asked her daughters to disconnect the ventilator which was connected to survive.

“Our commander is undergoing additional treatment, as we have reported, these treatments are highly complex and tough,” Maduro said in a ceremony broadcast on state television after reporting that he had just returned from Cuba.

Chavez was first diagnosed with cancer in June 2011. Castro sent an open letter to Venezuelan Vice President Nicolas Maduro that was published in the Cuban Communist Party’s Central Committee newspaper, Granma, reminiscing about when he first met Chavez in 1994.

The minister said “this development reached began implementing systemic medical treatment for the underlying disease as an adjunct to surgery December 11, 2012″

He said that the medical staff taking care of Chávez” is available for the Commander around the clock. They talk to him, take care of his treatment and are aware of everything that he has been through.”

Chavez, 58-years-old and in power since 1999, has not been seen or heard since last December 10, 2012 Venezuelan state television aired a few images of him just before leaving for the island to have surgery.

Opposition leaders are demanding that the government provide more information about the condition of Chavez and want new elections.

According to Maduro, Venezuelan people are “supportive and loyal to Commander Chávez” amidst his illness.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Monday, February 18, 2013

The Body Double Takes Over

from Yahoo News -
CARACAS (Reuters) - Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez made a surprise return from Cuba on Monday more than two months after surgery for cancer that has jeopardized his 14-year rule of the South American OPEC member.

The 58-year-old socialist leader's homecoming in the middle of the night implies some medical improvement - at least enough to handle a flight of several hours - and will inspire supporters' hopes he could return to active rule.

Yet there was no new information on his state, nor images of his arrival, and aides say his condition remains "complex."

Chavez could simply be hoping to quieten political tensions in Venezuela and smooth a transition to Vice President Nicolas Maduro, whom he has urged voters to back should he have to stand down and a new presidential election is held.

"We have arrived back in the Venezuelan fatherland. Thanks, my God! Thanks, my beloved people! Here we will continue the treatment," Chavez said via Twitter after flying in.

After a six-hour operation in Cuba on December 11, Chavez had not been seen or heard in public until photos were published of him on Friday.

There had been speculation Chavez was not well enough to travel despite wanting to return for continued treatment for the disease he was first diagnosed with in mid-2011.

"I remain attached to Christ and trusting in my nurses and doctors," Chavez also tweeted on Monday. "Onwards to victory forever! We will live and we will conquer!"


But Maduro said Chavez flew in at about 2:30 a.m. 0700 GMT) from Havana and was in a military hospital in Caracas, where a crowd quickly gathered, chanting slogans and dancing.

Chavez's arrival thrilled supporters in the nation of 29 million people, where his common touch and welfare policies have made him an idol to many of the poor.

"It's fabulous news, the best thing possible," Chavez's cousin, Guillermo Frias, told Reuters from the president's rural birthplace in Barinas state. "Venezuela was waiting for him, everyone wants to see him. Welcome home! Thank God he's back!"

Fireworks were set off in some Caracas neighborhoods as news spread and celebrations began among "Chavistas."

Government ministers were jubilant with one singing "He's back, he's back!" live on state TV.

They asked Chavez's euphoric supporters to respect the peace of patients at the military hospital, near a hillside shanty-town, where a huge banner of the his face adorned one wall.

Soldiers guarded the installation, while supporters chanted "We are Chavez!" and "He's back, he's back!" At one point, medical staff came out and asked them to quieten down.

The December operation in Havana was his fourth for Chavez since cancer was first detected in his pelvic area in June 2011.

Officials have emphasized in recent days that Chavez's condition remains delicate. "It's a complex, difficult situation, but Chavez is battling and fighting for his life," Foreign Minister Elias Jaua said during the weekend.


On Friday, the government published photos showing Chavez lying in a hospital. Officials said he was breathing through a tracheal tube and struggling to speak.

Chavez's pre-dawn return was a typical surprise move for the former soldier whose rule has combined constant political theatrics with thundering anti-U.S. rhetoric, tough treatment of opponents and lavish spending of oil revenues on the poor.

Opponents have decried government secrecy over Chavez's condition, and some have called for a formal declaration that he is unfit to rule. That would trigger a new presidential election within 30 days, probably between Maduro and opposition leader Henrique Capriles.

Maduro, a 50-year-old former bus driver, is Chavez's preferred successor and would be favorite to win a close vote in such a scenario.

"Uncertainty over a possible presidential election remains intact, despite the president's return," Venezuelan political analyst Luis Vicente Leon said.

After winning re-election in October last year, and wrongly declaring himself cured, Chavez was unable to attend his own swearing-in ceremony in January. To the fury of his foes, Venezuela's Supreme Court ruled that he remained president and could be sworn in later.

That could now happen at the military hospital.

"Now the president is back, there can be no doubt about the democratic institutions working in Venezuela," Information Minister Ernesto Villegas said.

"There were some who dream of unseating Chavez and the revolution, but here we always said Chavez is the president elected and re-elected by will of the Venezuelan people."

Chavez's return eclipses national debate over a recent devaluation of the local currency. It has proved highly unpopular among Venezuelans and opposition parties have tried to present it as evidence of economic incompetence by the government.

His lengthy absence in Cuba had fuelled a long-held opposition accusation that Venezuela's government was being manipulated and directed from Havana. Former Cuban leader Fidel Castro is a political mentor and father figure to Chavez and Castro visited him regularly in the hospital.

"I'm pleased you have been able to return to the piece of ... soil you love so much and the fraternal people who give you so much support," Fidel Castro wrote to Chavez in a letter published by Cuba's government on Monday.

"You have learnt a lot about life, Hugo, in those tough days of suffering and sacrifice," he added, urging continued discretion over Chavez's condition to thwart "fascists" intent on toppling him.

Some 20 Venezuelan students have spent the past four days chained up close to the Cuban Embassy in Caracas in protest of what they see as interference from Havana in internal affairs.

Capriles welcomed Chavez back but pointedly said he hoped it would mean a return to order in government and attention to Venezuelans' daily problems.

Congressional leader Diosdado Cabello said Chavez was comfortably installed in the hospital. "We're fixing all the details there so he lacks absolutely nothing," he said.

One woman, identifying herself as a nurse at the hospital, told state TV that Chavez had arrived walking and without a wheelchair or visible tubes.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

POP Goes the Bolivar!

from the AP
CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — Venezuela's government announced Friday that it is devaluing the country's currency, a long-anticipated change expected to push up prices in the heavily import-reliant economy.

Officials said the fixed exchange rate is changing from 4.30 bolivars to the dollar to 6.30 bolivars to the dollar.

The devaluation had been widely expected by analysts in recent months, though experts had been unsure about whether the government would act while President Hugo Chavez remained out of sight in Cuba recovering from cancer surgery.

It was the first devaluation to be announced by Chavez's government since 2010, and it pushed up the price of the dollar against the bolivar by 46.5 percent.

By boosting the bolivar value of Venezuela's dollar-denominated oil sales, the change is expected to help ease a difficult budget outlook for the government, which has turned increasingly to borrowing to meet its spending obligations.

But analysts said the move would not be sufficient to end the government's budget woes or balance the exchange rate with an overvalued currency. Economists predicted higher inflation and a likely continuation of shortages of some staple foods, such as cornmeal, chicken and sugar.

Planning and Finance Minister Jorge Giordani said the new rate will take effect Wednesday, after the two-day holiday of Carnival. He said the old rate would still be allowed for some transactions that already were approved by the state currency agency.

Venezuela's government has had strict currency exchange controls since 2003 and maintains a fixed, government-set exchange rate. Under the controls, people and businesses must apply to a government currency agency to receive dollars at the official rate to import goods, pay for travel or cover other obligations.

While those controls have restricted the amounts of dollars available at the official rate, an illegal black market has flourished and the value of the bolivar has recently been eroding. In black market street trading, dollars have recently been selling for more than four times the official exchange rate of 4.30 bolivars to the dollar.

Economist Pedro Palma, a professor at Caracas' IESA business school, said the government's decision to allow some previously requested dollar transactions for products in categories such as food, health care, construction and autos will somewhat soften the impact on inflation. But he predicted the devaluation would inevitably further drive up inflation.

Economist Jose Guerra told The Associated Press that given the devaluation, he predicts inflation of more than 25 percent this year.

The announcement of the devaluation came after the country's Central Bank said annual inflation rose to 22.2 percent in January, up from 20.1 percent at the end of 2012.

The oil-exporting country, a member of OPEC, has consistently had Latin America's highest officially acknowledged inflation rates in recent years. Spiraling prices have come amid worsening shortages of some foods.

Seeking to confront such shortages, the government last week announced plans to have the state oil company turn over more of its earnings in dollars to the Central Bank while reducing the amount injected into a fund used for various government programs and public works projects.

It was the fifth time that Chavez's government has devalued the currency since establishing the currency exchange controls a decade ago in an attempt to combat capital flight.

Giordani said the government also decided to do away with a second-tier rate that has hovered around 5.30 bolivars to the dollar, through a bond market administered by the Central Bank.

That rate had been granted to some businesses that hadn't been able to obtain dollars at the official rate, and accounted for roughly one-fifth of government-approved foreign currency transactions.

Central Bank President Nelson Merentes called that bond trading system, known by the acronym Sitme, "imperfect."

"It doesn't make much sense to keep a system that seeks the country's debt to feed it," Merentes said.

Palma said it's worrying that the government is not providing any additional outlet for Venezuelans to obtain dollars, given the strong demand for foreign currency. Guerra, a professor at Central University of Venezuela, predicts that demand for dollars is likely to keep pushing the so-called "parallel" dollar market higher.

The government's announcement drew strong criticism from opposition leader Henrique Capriles, who said that the government's heavy spending was to blame for the situation and that officials were trying to slip the change past the public at the start of a long holiday weekend.

"They spent the money on campaigning, corruption, gifts abroad!" Capriles said in one of several messages on his Twitter account. Capriles was defeated by Chavez in an October presidential vote that was preceded by a burst of heavy government spending.

Capriles criticized Vice President Nicolas Maduro's handling of the situation. Maduro, who was named by Chavez as his preferred successor before undergoing cancer surgery Dec. 11, has taken on more responsibilities and a higher profile during the president's nearly two-month absence.

"They give Mr. Maduro a little more time in charge and he finishes with the country," Capriles said. "Look at the inflation in January, and now the devaluation."

Maduro said on television that the measure had been approved by Chavez. He said the change was necessary in response to a recent "speculative attacks" against the country's currency.

Saturday, February 2, 2013